Keeping your brain fit: Dementia expert's brain exercises to keep you cognitively agile
OTTAWA -- How are you at remembering the birthdays of those closest to you? (No cheating with Facebook prompts.)
If your recall isn’t great for those special occasions, work to get better at it, not just for the sake of relationships, but for the health of your brain.
Dr. Antoine Hakim says the simplest of things can be the most important for your mind.
“Commit information to memory.”
Hakim is a specialist in dementia and stroke. He is the author of “Save Your Mind: Seven Rules to Avoid Dementia”, a book available in English and French.
He offers hope: “Dementia is not inevitable as we get older!”
Hakim shares great advice, too.
“Our brain, which does not beat like a heart or move like a muscle, nonetheless, uses up a lot of energy because it is working all the time,” he says. “So the main rule I offer you to protect your memory function is very simple: preserve the brain’s blood supply.
“We now know that long before any memory difficulties show up, the brain’s blood supply declines. So please do not wait until you are having memory issues to follow the advice you will hear here.”
We often focus on fitness for our heart. We exercise to have a strong body, but Hakim says it is crucial for the health of your brain.
“The secret to protect our memory function is two pronged: On the one hand, do more of what brings blood to the brain, and on the other hand, avoid conditions that impair and diminish the brain’s blood flow.”
Hakim received an Order of Canada for his work on stroke prevention. This medical doctor, and professor emeritus at The University of Ottawa’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, is also the recipient of Canada’s most prestigious award in the field of medicine and medical science, the Gairdner Wightman Award. Some refer to that prize as the “baby Nobel”.
Hakim clearly isn’t a man motivated by accolades. He is devoted to brain health and cognitive agility. He wants people to live better lives.
That very simple expression “use it or lose it,” says Hakim, really applies to the mind.
It’s great to do regular crosswords or Sudoku but this specialist says change it up because your brain gets bored. “Your brain wants variety and persistent stimulation,” he says, emphatically, “not the same routines.”
How do you improve blood flow to the brain? “By putting it to work,” he says.
“The brain wants to be learning, doing, memorizing, enjoying music – and the more you demand of your brain, the happier it is, and the better it will serve you.”
So if you think you are too old to learn new tricks, think again.
“Learning opens new blood supply channels to the brain.”
Aside from committing birthdays to memory, Hakim suggests a few exercises that would bring more blood flowing to your brain:
Learn a new language
“We know that every additional language you use adds protection to the brain’s memory functions.”
Join a choir
“It will teach your brain not only to read music notes and produce appropriate sounds, but also coordinate with the other singers. That’s hard work for the brain.”
Memorize the streets in your neighbourhood
Don’t bore your brain
Don’t do Sudoku or crossword puzzles all day long. Change it up.
(AP / Carolyn Kaster)
Hakim says it is really important to stay healthy to avoid strokes or any condition that injures the brain and its blood supply.
“Strokes are now preventable and treatable, so learn the risk factors and avoid them or treat them. Learn how to recognize a stroke if it comes upon you or your partner and call 911.”
This physician and researcher says it is important to remember the acronym: FAST to detect symptoms of stroke:
- F = facial drooping
- A = arm weakness
- S = speech difficulties
- T = time to call 911
Hakim says it is very important to maintain a normal blood pressure and to monitor your blood pressure.
“Invest in a blood pressure cuff and at home, when you are calm, measure it. The systolic pressure (that’s the higher number) should be around 120.”
Doctor’s orders for best brain and mind health
- Stop smoking
- Control and treat diabetes and high cholesterol
- Avoid obesity
- Don’t sit for too long.
- Get enough sleep daily
- Move enough to get out of breath once or twice a day. Learn to include exercise snacks in your daily routine.
- Avoid chronic sadness and loneliness because they do diminish the brain’s blood supply. When feeling down put on some music you enjoy and move to it.
(redtea / iStock.com)
You are invited to spend some virtual time together with Dr. Antoine Hakim, who is world-renowned for his outstanding research into stroke and championing stroke prevention and treatment in Canada and beyond.
Through his work at the uOttawa and his creation of the Canadian Stroke Network, Hakim has revolutionized the way strokes are being researched and treated in Canada and around the globe.
Hakim is one of many medical experts coming together for a fundraiser for the University of Ottawa’s Brain and Mind Research Institute.
The event is called Tea Time with the Docs.
It is taking place May 28. I am looking forward to moderating the event featuring these specialists who have dedicated their lives to improving the quality of ours.
Dr. Ruth Slack, the Director of the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute describes the event as “an opportunity to meet some of Canada’s most inspiring international leaders in brain disease research, and learning strategies to enhance cognition and discover the POWER of your brain.”
“All event attendees will hear from expert researchers who specialize in dementia prevention, multiple sclerosis, concussion, neuromuscular disease, mental health and stroke research.”
Early bird tickets are $50 until April 12. Tickets are then $60.
Slack and her research group’s long-term goals are to promote the regeneration of the damaged brain after stroke or in neurodegenerative diseases.
Slack's research focuses on developing novel strategies to treat stroke and neurodegenerative diseases by taking advantage of the brain’s own regenerative capacity.
All of these brilliant researchers sharing their expertise at this event offer hope to those who have suffered brain trauma, and optimism to their families.